The Pieces of Architecture and the Origin of Masonic Study

Discover the journey of the Apprentice – from Operative to Speculative.

This journey has been carried out since the times of operative Freemasonry but today the initiate works in the construction of his inner temple.

This article was translated from the Portuguese original and although it has been edited for clarity, there may be some inconsistencies in language. 

Upon being initiated into Freemasonry, the apprentice gradually receives the instructions of the due degree, then at a certain time the Venerable Master presents a calendar with indications of work topics that the newly initiated must organize, write, and present to the other brothers.

This process is to ensure knowledge of diverse information such as rituals, history, philosophy, and other aspects of Masonic nature.


The Apprentice Pillar, Rosslyn Chapel, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland.
IMAGE LINKED:  wikimedia Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

In addition to the presentation of works that are called ‘pieces of architecture’, they must also participate in a certain number of meetings, the interstice (small space between parts of a whole or between two contiguous things), over time, the WM observes the evolution of the new brother and with this he indicates for a salary increase, which would be the attainment of the degree of companion.

In this process there is a formation that has been carried out since the times of operative Freemasonry.

Today the initiate works in the construction of his inner temple, listing virtues and Masonic knowledge by studying the manual, reading texts and books about the rite he practices, or the history of the Masonic Order, for this he must occupy his time studying in the best way possible.

Obviously this is not a system that was developed with speculative masonry, it is, in fact, an organization that was already made with the former masonry workers and which, when structured for the speculative system ended up keeping some important rules for the cognitive knowledge of the initiate and to maintain activities in the Masonic workplace, therefore, the work must be done with care and quality to highlight his mastery of the subjects of study.

But when learning about such activities, the apprentice often asks himself;

Where does the name ‘piece of architecture’ come from?

And for what reason should we fulfil an interstice?

Or what would be the salary increase in Freemasonry?

These are terms that were conceived in the operative period that in the organization of our speculative activities end up remaining.

In this text we will observe the formation of the apprentice during the guilds, understanding how his journey and formation was to obtain the degree of Freemason Companion, the idea is to highlight how the ritualistic work of a young man (yes, very young) who sought the service worked, know the formation of guilds and how his path evolved in the art of stonework.

The proposed study will identify possible equalities, and differences, on the domain of art in the operative and speculative period.

We will go through the history of ancient and medieval Freemasonry and at the same time make a parenthesis on how today’s Freemasons develop through work: working your rough stone and creating a solidification for your personal growth.

The craft as it is presented today presents some different situations, but the most interesting is that since its operative origin it presents a search for the same result, if today we ‘cut our rough stone’ figuratively, with study and reading, before such activity was done effectively, that is, the apprentice should show in practice that he knew how to master the tools necessary for his development.

In fact, this is also one of the themes observed, the use of tools in a metaphorical and real way, carrying out the same purpose.



Stone masons working on blocks of stone, making cisterns, columns, building parts etc. Woodcut by J. Amman.
IMAGE LINKED:  welcome collection Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Some older texts that were written for the resolution and organization of trade guilds (still in the Middle Ages) can be studied, and several historians end up using these documents to explain what the life of free masons was like during the formation of guilds of office.

It is worth noting that it was not only the bricklayers who held the right to form corporations; life, in the work environment, was organized by groups.

In the 14th century, craft corporations were formed to guarantee the performance of artisans, control production and protect the secrets of the craft. define what was done in each office within the cities.

The term office designated the exercise by obligation of some specialized type of work; that performed manually and/or with the aid of instruments was known as a “mechanical craft”. The “mechanical officer” was also called “mechanical artist” or artisan, deriving from this designation the names of artist and craftsman, entries that have, among dictionaries of the 18th and 19th centuries, overlapping meanings.

– REIS, 2006

No work could be performed independently, each group held a charter that allowed their performance; this document was made official how each Master of the Craft could develop their activities, obtain the correct and permitted number of apprentices and the fines and amounts related to the work or penalties to be applied in case of serious error on the part of the participants of such ex officio corporation.

The control of the quantity and quality of goods and goods produced, which was achieved by inspecting production, which could not be degraded, and by destroying low-quality products; control of working hours, which could not exceed stipulated hours and must respect holidays; professional training, which technically qualified the apprentice through practice, with his ascension being the responsibility of an officer or master, linked to his passing in rigorous internal examinations; assistance to members in cases of temporary illness or disability, as well as assistance and monitoring at the funeral; and the maintenance of a financial reserve for the assistance of its members and their families. They were, therefore, fraternal societies with professional ties.

– REIS, 2006

In the 15th century, feudal society was gradually unravelling, and cities were receiving all sorts of people who needed to develop an activity to survive and earn a decent wage, so work groups were formed. In the case of craft corporations, we can note that they were indoctrinated by religious thought, as they practiced services for monastic orders and in the construction of churches (religious temples) and thus ended up organizing themselves into an institution with a clear theological relationship as a tribute to the saints.


Plate 5: Tomb of Mausolus, stone masons make a column at the right, from The Seven Wonders of the World, 1608. Artist: Antonio Tempesta (Italian, Florence 1555–1630 Rome)
IMAGE LINKED:  Met Museum Open Access PD licence


The young man who looked for such corporations to obtain knowledge, arrived at the Master of Craft by the hands of his parents.

He would have been very young, between 11 and 13 years old, and made a commitment to act within the rules, for this contract was made between the head of such a corporation and those responsible for the initiate.

As many could not read, it was up to the provost (a kind of mayor) to organize everything and allow agreement between the parties.

The newly initiated would sleep in the workshop, respect his master, take care of the tools, and clean the place; in return he would receive food, lodging, be instructed in the work and should swear that he would never tell the secrets of the trade (still a required oath from the initiate).

From this point forward the apprentice would live a life of toil and much guidance to earn the degree of Companion in the art of Freemasonry.

All the work was done with the empirical principle, nothing was annotated or registered, in the case of secrecy, for evident reason such a person who volunteered for the work should have the minimum cognitive condition to obtain such instructions.

Among their performances within the workshop or shop, they had to recognize the use of tools; gradually the instructions were made so that he would become familiar with each of the instruments and apply their use correctly.

The initiate’s family had to pay a fixed amount so that the apprentice could obtain the proper knowledge.

Another important issue about the initiate’s development was the time of study and work (interstice), in general it was 5 to 6 years, but some corporations they could have a longer time, around 7 to 12 years, as was the case with the glaziers’ corporation.

There was still a hierarchy to be respected at work; the Master was the one who coordinated the instructions, but along with the work executed, they could have Companions or even journeymen (to work for a day or a short period) who were hired for a limited time to help in the execution of a given work.

The apprentice should live with all of these in an orderly manner and always follow the ritual of the works to learn what was necessary in his pilgrimage through knowledge.

The artisan unit of the tent was commanded by the owner mesteira [master] and his fellow craftsmen, also called mesteiras.

Below these, but still under the aegis of the workshop, were the apprentices who, after a certain time, would become masters.

There were also workers and servants, sometimes called young men[…]

The worker was the one who worked in someone else’’ tent, under the direction of a master and, even without being examined, received a salary.

However, they could not be responsible for works. To work, they had to be linked to a master, who paid them for the newspaper.

The ‘servants’ or ‘young men’ were auxiliaries not integrated into the trade, generally worked in extra services and, as payment, had room and board, as they differ from the workers.


– LANGHANS, 1943

Remembering that the apprentice did not receive a salary in cash, his payment was made in food, lodging, clothing and even permission to use tools for his initial work, the didactic knowledge was of oral characteristic, he should observe, understand and then reproduce what it was given as initial instruction, the link of knowledge between apprentice and Master was memorization, this was done so that inscribed documents could not reveal the art and secret of such a craft.

Mechanics do not detain apprentices in their arts with theoretical speculations, but immediately put them to work, so that they learn to manufacture by manufacturing, to sculpt by carving, to paint by painting, to dance by dancing, etc. […]

So, finally, for the good results of the practice, everyone will experience the truth of the proverb: by doing we learn to do “manufacturing”.

– COMENIUS, 1996

With one year to the end of the study period, usually with five years of instructions, the apprentice should start training on a piece of architecture to obtain the Companion degree, and for this he should be instructed on the subject and how he should develop such activity, there is no support for the execution and only your Master could provide you with some information.

As the work was long, due to the time of instruction the young person should understand that such a piece of architecture would be his so-called ‘masterpiece’, because this manual work with the proper tools would be proof of his ability to grade elevation and that he was able to use all the tools that were indicated to him.

If today the apprentice receives his degree tools to act philosophically, in antiquity the worker who started in the activities should have an absolute and true mastery in handling all the available tools, and should never misplace, spoil, or even neglect their way of use, that is why his piece of architecture was a thorough document that he learned the rules of use.

These tests, mainly from the 14th century onwards, required a demonstration of skill according to the candidate’s corporation.

The conditions for taking the test should also be controlled in order to avoid fraud.

As we mentioned what happened in Angers, where the candidate (aspirant) stayed in the master’s house; he worked alone in a room he rented.

Every time he entered, he locked the door, and every time he left, he handed the key to the master.

The master, under oath, promised not to help the candidate, as well as not allowing entry into anyone’s room, apart from himself and the ‘jurés’.

Violation of statutes was punishable by a heavy fine. The work could take weeks or months to prepare, and the candidate was certainly working without the advice of his comrades.

– CICHOSKI, 2012

As we can see, the initiate had a constant obligation to carry out routine work in order to be certified as an evolving apprentice, but his piece of architecture was ample proof that he was able to follow in the work system established in operative Freemasonry, without this, he would not be allowed to continue as a stonemasonry craftsman and would be dismissed from such a corporation.

Yet another important issue is precisely about the idea of ​​a possible fraud, so it was constantly observed and in obtaining a degree the so-called jurés [jurors] would indicate whether it was really a ‘masterpiece’, but if it was not approved, the piece architecture would be destroyed and the apprentice would lose the right to use the tools, but if they were approved, the so-called salary increase would then come.

Remembering that the apprentice did not receive pay or salary for his activity, only house, food, clothes and the right to use the tools indicated by the Master, when he reached the Companion degree then he could develop his activities by continuing with his master, or in other workshops, but even after earning a degree, taking the oath and being able to use tools he should have some active time before he can open his workshop.


We can note throughout the text that some resolutions, guidelines, and activities of operative Freemasonry are still in force in speculative work, when we are initiated, we must take an oath not to inform the profane about our work, just as the oath was taken by the apprentice during his journey in the art of chipping stone from the old guilds or craft guilds.

The initiation age of an apprentice was very different from the current period, but we must understand that at that time the need to work in the city forced families to indicate a vocation or profession soon for their children, today we are initiated with a minimum age required, usually twenty-one years of age, quite different from the eleven or thirteen years of operative Freemasonry.

Another interesting point is the question of apprenticeship time; in operative masonry it was around six years, today of course we have a much smaller gap, but the important thing is to note that the length of service in a certain degree aims to obtain knowledge – today it is philosophical and still theoretical, but before it should be obtained in a practical way and still always with the help of the WM and other brothers.

One of the first instructions is precisely about the use of apprentice tools.

In the case of the York rite, they are the Twenty-Four Inch Rule and the Gavel, originally the rule was used to measure and display the work of free masons and the gavel/maul was applied to break the corners of the rough stone and better adjust them to the builder’s use.

Today we receive a philosophical explanation as information and we use such pieces figuratively, but we must remember that just like the old apprentice of operative Freemasonry, we must master the use of tools for our evolution.

The salary increase is an expression that we apply when we can complete our studies in a degree and we are going to advance within symbolic Freemasonry, just as before the initiate did not receive cash values, he would only get the increase or pay for his performance when reaching the degree of companion, which is why we use the phrase.

When it comes to the piece of architecture, it is very well highlighted that it is not a simple work for empty dialogues, but in fact it is a system of the search for knowledge that was already applied before and today we are continuing with such a teaching system.

It is important to respect the role of the initiate in finishing or completing his works, to still receive instructions and know how to continue his evolution as a Freemason.


ANDRADE, Mario Raul de Moraes. O baile das quatro artes. Publicado originalmente em 1943. São Paulo: Poeteiro Editor Digital (Projeto Livro Livre), 2016.

CICHOSKI, Luiz Vitório. Fundamentos Operativos nos Graus Básicos / Luiz Vitório Cichoski. – 1. ed. – Londrina: Ed. Maçônica “A TROLHA”, 2012.

COMENIUS; GOMES, Joaquim Ferreira. Didáctica magna: tratado da arte universal de ensinar tudo a todos. 4.ed. Lisboa: Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, 1996.

CORREIA, Virgílio. Livro dos Regimentos dos Officiaes mecanicos da Mui Nobre e sempre Leal Cidade de Lisboa (1572). Coleção do Ministério da Instrução Pública (XXII): Subsídios para a História da Arte Portuguesa. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade, 1926.

CUNHA, Antônio Geraldo. Dicionário etimológico Nova Fronteira da língua portuguesa. Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1997.

DIAS, Geraldo Coelho. A Irmandade de S. Crispim e S. Crispiniano. Estudos em homenagem ao Professor Doutor José Marques, vol. 2, 2006.

DUVE, Thierry de. Fazendo escola (ou refazendo-a?). Trad. Alexânia Ripoll. Chapecó: Argos, 2012.

HAUSER, Arnold. História social da literatura e da Arte. Tomo I. São Paulo: Editora Mestre Jou, 1972.

LANGHANS, F. P. de Almeida. As corporações dos ofícios mecânicos. Subsídios para sua história. 2º volume. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional, 1946.

RUGIU. Antonio Santoni. A nostalgia do mestre artesão. Trad.: Maria de Lourdes Menon. Campinas/SP: Autores associados, 1998.

SENNETT, Richard. O Artífice. Trad. Clóvis Marques. Rio de Janeiro: Record, 2009.

SERRÃO, Vítor. História da Arte em Portugal: O Barroco. Lisboa: Editorial Presença, 2003.

SITE:<> ACESSO EM: 10 de setembro de 2021.

SITE:<> ACESSO EM: 12 de setembro de 2021.

TEIXEIRA, Francisco Augusto Garcez. A irmandade de S. Lucas. Lisboa: Imprensa Beleza, 1931.

Article by: Adriano Viégas Medeiros

Masonic Confederation of Brazil – COMAB. Grande Oriente de Santa Catarina – GOSC A\R\L\S\ LABOR E CONCÓRDIA Nº 146. Lages – 30 de outubro de 2021.

Freemason Companion CIM 10259 ARLS LABOR AND CONCÓRDIA Nº 146. East of Lages-SC. York Rite GOSC/COMAB.


Also founding member of the AUG. AND RESPONSE REGISTER YES. VIRT. “LIGHT AND KNOWLEDGE” Nº 103 – Jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the State of Pará – GLEPA.

Participant also as a registered corresponding member in the Dom Bosco Membership Circle with registration number 20062501. of Aug. and Resp.

EEst Store and PPes. “Dom Bosco No. 33”, under the jurisdiction of the Grand Lodge of the Federal District – GLMDF.

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